Legislative Push to End California Gold Rush


". . .has miners panning environmental rules."

Fox, Stephen Clark

California Gold RushFortune seekers hoping to strike it rich in California's ongoing gold rush may find their dreams dashed by new environmental rules that lawmakers say are too costly to enforce.

Mining groups that outfit treasure hunters say an economic analysis by the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) shows at least $23M/year is generated from small-scale miners locating gold in riverbeds.

But California's Legislature wants to slash funding after learning that regulators' new fish-protection rules would cost taxpayers $1.8M each year for permitting, administration, inspection and enforcement. The state collects only $373,000 in permit fees, creating a deficit that lawmakers say is too costly to overcome.

A draft outline to slash the mining program passed budget subcommittees in both chambers. The full Legislature must approve it before cuts are finalized and independent fortune hunters are denied permitting.

"This is extraordinarily reckless legislation," Mike Dunn, owner of Gold Pan California, a gold mining supply shop, said.

Dunn says that the end of the small-scale gold mining industry would affect small businesses in at least 14 sectors. Most of the $23M or more generated from these economic activities stay in low-income, rural areas where the booty is hiding.

Already, mining companies were suffering under two moratoria—one legislative and one court-ordered—against suction dredge mining enacted in 2009, which were to be lifted in November after new regulations devised by the CFGD went into effect. The budget cuts, essentially, would keep the moratorium in place permanently.

The Karuk Tribe, whose members were trampled by the original 1850s Gold Rush, has led the campaign against the practice, including filing the lawsuit that led to the court-ordered moratorium in 2009.

"California. . .taxpayers can no longer afford to subsidize this environmentally destructive hobby," said Karuk Tribe Department of Natural Resources Director Leaf Hillman."

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